What Causes Atopic Dermatitis (Atopic Eczema)?

Atopic dermatitis, also called atopic eczema—or just eczema, is the name given to a stubborn, itchy rash that occurs in certain persons with sensitive or irritable skin. The cause of eczema is not known. It’s the result of a built-in defect of the skin that tends to run in families. Eczema is not contagious and is not related to your general health. Atopic dermatitis is also called constitutional eczema; this name emphasizes the built-in aspect. Persons with eczema have skin that is dry and easily irritated by soap, detergents, and rough woolen clothing. Very hot or very cold weather often aggravates eczema. While certain allergies may worsen eczema, they don’t cause it.

Treating Atopic Dermatitis (Atopic Eczema)

Since eczema patients have a constitutional skin defect, no permanent cure is possible. Fortunately, we have effective ways of controlling eczema; most persons are able to live comfortably with their skin condition.

Cortisone compounds applied to the skin are the best medicine for controlling eczema. Most cortisone salves can be used safely for years. When large areas of the body are treated with strong cortisone salves, periodic medical checkups are necessary. Certain camisoles should not be applied to the face, armpits, groin, or rectal area. In severe eczema, it’s sometimes necessary to take cortisone by mouth; however, this is done only for short periods and under the close supervision of a doctor.

Cortisone is applied to the skin in the form of lotions, creams, or greasy ointments. When the skin is very dry, ointments are often best. Whatever preparation you use, be sure to use only a little and massage it in well. If you wish to have more vigorous treatment, apply the medicine more often. Always remember to use just a little.

Other medicines are sometimes used. For stubborn eczema, salves containing coal tar can be helpful. Coal tar smells and stains the clothes. You can minimize these nuisances by using it at bedtime.

In controlling your eczema, remember: Keep your skin well lubricated. If your skin is too dry, use a greasy cortisone salve or apply a little white Vaseline after you rub in moisturizer.